WTW: A Look At The Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Team, America’s Teen Sprint Prodigies Continue To Impress, Courtney Wayment and Karoline Grøvdal Run Fast
By Robert Johnson
May 3, 2021
Below we try to make sense of some of the major events of the last week.
The 35k Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials Are In The Books
Assuming the Ethiopian federation sticks to what it has said it will do and take the top 3 from its trials to the Olympics, the list of names that didn’t make the 2020 Ethiopian Olympic men’s marathon team is staggering.
Kenenisa Bekele – the world’s greatest distance runner and second-fastest marathon in history — isn’t on the team, nor is the third- or fourth-fastest men in history in Birhanu Legese (2:02:48 pb, two-time Tokyo champ) and Mosinet Geremew (2:02:55 pb, 2018 Dubai champ, 3-time WMM runner-up). None of the three ran the trials, as Bekele said the 14-week turnaround between the trials and Olympics was too quick and Legese and Geremew are believed to be battling injuries.
Of course, Ethiopia was bound to leave a lot of super talented runners at home as only three men and women can make the Olympic team and Ethiopia has a ton of worthy candidates. 33 of the 59 (55.9%) men who have ever broken 2:05 hail from Ethiopia, including 18 Ethiopians who have done it since the last Olympics.
That doesn’t mean that the Ethiopian Olympic mean’s marathon team is weak. If the federation sticks to what it has said it will do and takes the top 3 from its trials, its team of Shura Kitata, Lelisa Desisa, and Sisay Lemma is still a good one.
We at LetsRun.com normally consider the winner of the London Marathon to be the world’s best marathoner and the winner of the Ethiopian Trials, Shura Kitata, also won London last year. If Ethiopia was picking the team without holding a trials race, they likely would have picked him. Trials runner-up Lelisa Desisa has won four majors during his career, including the most recent Worlds, and he’s also a past champion in Dubai. Again, if Ethiopia was selecting a team, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t pick the reigning world champ.
If Kenenisa Bekele fans are looking for a glimmer of hope as to where Ethiopia might go against the order of finish at the trials and put Bekele on the team, it’s the #3 spot. Sisay Lemma has started 20 marathons in his career and never won a major. He’s actually really good at finishing third as in addition to doing it on Saturday at the trials, he’s done it in three of his last four marathons (2020 Tokyo and London, 2019 Berlin). Lemma is much more likely to medal than the inconsistent Bekele, but if gold is what you are after, then Bekele is your man.
Then, just as we were about to publish this morning, we saw this news:
With all due respect to Keneni, the Athletics Federation is the responsible body for the selection of athletes that represent 🇪🇹
አሸብር just wants to play his part in the Keneni-EAF saga
— ኢትዮጵያውያንማስክአድርጉ😷 | MaskUpEthiopia😷 (@DagimTNegash) May 3, 2021
It remains to be seen what will happen. The second post above confirms what LetsRun.com friend and Ethiopian journalist Teferi Debebe told us last week — there is a huge conflict going on between the Ethiopian Olympic Committee and the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. It’s very complicated and we don’t totally understand what is going on.
But it’s safe to say that the head of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee, Dr. Ashebir Woldegiorgis, and the head of and Ethiopian Athletics Federation, Deratu Tulu, do not get along. Earlier this year, Tulu led a bunch of athletes in a protest outside the Olympic Committee’s offices as she thinks the Olympic Committee is corrupt and doesn’t treat the athletes well. Woldegiorgis was at one point briefly jailed, but he’s now back in charge and has former distance greats Haile Gebrselassie and Berhane Adere as his vice presidents. There’s been talk of an Olympic boycott by Tulu while others fear Ethiopia could be barred from the Olympics if the government gets involved and picks the team as that’s in violation of the Olympic charter.
As for the women, Ethiopia likewise was bound to leave off some talented runners, as since the last Olympics 11 different Ethiopian women have broken 2:20.
The most notable absence from the Ethiopian women’s team has to be Worknesh Degefa, the national record holder who has finished 1st or 2nd or broken 2:20 in all five of the marathon she’s ever run. Her resume includes a win in Boston in 2019 and two wins in Dubai, plus a runner-up in Dubai. A source tells us she didn’t compete as she’s currently pregnant. The former Ethiopian record holder and currently second-fastest Ethiopian in history, Tirunesh Dibaba, the three-time Olympic champ on the track, also didn’t run. Dibaba, 35, hasn’t competed since 2018 as she took time away from the sport to give birth to a second child in October 2019.
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The Ethiopian Trials winner, Tigist Girma, 27, has never won a major and has only run one major. She was 5th in both of her marathons in 2020 — Tokyo and Valencia. The runner-up at the trials, Birhane Dibaba, was also well-beaten in Valencia last year, just 9th. But Dibaba loves racing in Japan. The only downer is that the Olympic marathon is going to be in Sapporo, not Tokyo, as she’s won Tokyo twice and finished second there twice.
The Trials third placer Roza Dereje Bekele was our 5th ranked marathoner in the world in 2019 as in that year she was 3rd in London and 1st in Valencia (plus a DNF at Worlds).
Yet Another Woman Breaks The 5k Road WR and Yet Again It May Not Count
Last week, Norway’s Karoline Grøvdal ran 14:39 at a race in Jessheim — the fastest standalone road 5K in history. However, much like Brit Beth Potter‘s 14:41 from last month, Grøvdal’s WR may not be ratified due to various technicalities regarding course measurement — which doesn’t bother me too much since in 2017 Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei ran a 14:32 5K split en route to the road 10K world record in Prague. For the record, Grøvdal was wearing adidas shoes while Potter wore Asics.
Our non-European readers may not be familiar with the 30-year-old Grøvdal. She is no flash in the pan. She is already the Norwegian record holder in the mile (4:26.23), 2k (5:41.01), steeple (9:13.35), and road 10k (30:32). She was 9th in the 2016 Olympic 10,000 and 7th in the 5000. If she wants to dream of a medal in 2021, she’d better return to the steeple, which she’s only run once at a global championship (13th in 2019).
Courtney Wayment Runs 9:31.37
BYU may have put four women under 4:15 and four men under 3:38 for 1500, but the biggest story to emerge from the BYU program last week came in the women’s steeplechase. NCAA Indoor 3000 champ Courtney Wayment returned to the event for the first time since 2017 and lowered her pb by more than 30 seconds to put herself into Olympic consideration.
Coming into the weekend, Wayment’s pb was 10:04.43, but now it’s 9:31.37 (#5 all-time in the NCAA). If you are stunned that someone can improve that much, don’t be. Please realize her flat 3000 pb of 8:54.90 is more 30 seconds faster than it was in 2017 as well (9:26.22).
If one of the US’s three big guns in the steeple who all have run 9:10 or faster — Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Colleen Quigley — gets injured or is off their game at the Olympic Trials, the battle for the third Olympic spot is much more interesting now than it was a few weeks ago. Also this weekend, 2019 Pan Am Games silver medallist Marisa Howard ran 9:32.75 and last weekend former NCAA champ Leah Falland ran 9:32.53 — her fastest time in four years (her pb is 9:18.85).
America’s Teen Sprint Prodigies Impress
Last weekend, the World Relays took place in Poland but a ton of the world’s top sprinters skipped the event and were competing in Florida.
In January, then 16-year-old Erriyon Knighton of Tampa turned pro and signed with adidas (he turned 17 on January 29). He’s now starting to run outdoors and so far the results have been good. On April 4, he ran a 20.31 200 pb (+1.7) and this weekend he ran a windy 9.99 (+2.7) in the prelims of the Pure Athletics Sprint Elite Meet in Clermont. That makes him only the third US high schooler to break 10.00 in any conditions, joining Trayvon Bromell and Matthew Boling. In the final, he ran a windy 10.07 (+2.1) but what’s crazy is he wasn’t even the top 17-year-old high schooler in the race.
Jaylen Slade, who is only 94 days older (DOB 10/23/03) than Knighton, also ran in the meet and he beat Knighton in the 100 final by running 10.04 after running 10.03 (+2.7) in the prelims.
75 minutes later Slade came back for the 200 and blitzed a wind-legal 20.20 (+0.3), ranking him #5 all-time among US high schoolers (Noah Lyles has the record at 20.09).
I know our own Jonathan Gault hates it when every young sprinter is heralded as “the next Usain Bolt,” so I’ll scrap plans to create a table comparing their PRs to Bolt’s in great detail at their age. But I will point out for comparison’s sake that Bolt ran 20.58 at age 15, 20.13 at age 16, and 19.93 at age 17. He didn’t seriously pick up the 100 until age 20, when he ran 10.07.
In terms of pro sprint action, in the same Pure Athletics meet, 2016 Olympic 100/200 champ Elaine Thompson ran 10.78 in the final (+1.8) after running a windy 10.76 (+3.6) in the prelims.
The men’s Olympic gold medal contenders were competing at the North Florida Invitational, where Trayvon Bromell destroyed Andre De Grasse and Divine Oduduru in the men’s 100 by running 9.88 (+1.5) to mark himself as the Olympic favorite as the other two both ran 10.05. The day before, Oduduru ran 19.88 (+1.6) in the 200.
Video of The Week
Over the weekend, I got a call from my old college roommate Chris Lear — author of Running With The Buffaloes — raving about a running video that he’d watched.
The video he was talking about appears below. The NN Running Team released a 20-minute video of what life is like in Kapchorwa, Uganda — the town where the likes of Stephen Kiprotich and Joshua Cheptegei have recently risen to fame. It’s definitely worth a watch.
Bizarre Story Of The Weeek
Elias Kiptum had apparently been working with foreign journalists to fabricate information that Athletics Kenya was encouraging doping and was trying to get Kenya suspended from the Olympics. *2nd article
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